Born From Blood And Tears: A Review Of Jonathan Teplitzky’s The Railway Man

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My Game.

Someone once asked me why I wanted to make films. At the time, I didn’t quite know how to respond, and so told them something about a life-long love of story-telling that I hoped to nurture into adulthood. This answer wasn’t entirely true, even I could see that, but it seemed to satisfy the person in question, because they never brought it up again. It did not, however, satisfy me. For weeks after that encounter, all I could think about was why I wanted to be a filmmaker. Honestly, what was the reason? Was it the attractive prospect of fame and fortune? Was it the incessant need to be in the spotlight? Was it an unconscious desire to foist my philosophies and political views on the world? Night after night I pondered this weighty quandary, but never managed to produce a satisfactory answer. And then, when I had all but given up on my search for the big “why?” it came to me. I wanted to write screenplays because I wanted to tell the story of the human animal. I wanted to examine every aspect of our souls, our hearts, our minds. I wanted to dissect the things that drive us, the things that most of us go our whole lives without knowing. I wanted to create works of art that were profound, but also entertaining enough, to help us understand what it means to be human and to make this bizarre, beautiful, and at times brutal, experience of life a little bit easier. What I wanted, in short, was to make films like Jonathan Teplitzky’s The Railway Man.

This 2013 British-Australian drama tells the true story of Eric Lomax, a Scottish soldier who was captured and tortured by the Japanese during World War 2, and his search for reconciliation with Takashi Nagase, the Japanese interpreter who oversaw many of his torture sessions. Blessed with stunning visuals, a gorgeous color-scheme, a highly lyrical soundtrack and stellar performances from its stars–Colin Firth, Hiroyuki Sanada, and their younger counterparts Jeremy Irvine and Tanroh Ishida–The Railway Man is easily one of the most powerful films I’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing. It’s not just that it tells the story of a period of history that I have a personal connection to and that’s often overlooked, it also gives each of its characters an enormous amount of depth and anguish. Too many war movies these days focus solely on the experiences of one side and how the conflict affected them afterwards. Such pictures completely ignore the fact that war is demeaning to all of its participants–to both the torturers and the tortured, both the victors and the vanquished. We might not like to believe it but, in war, there are only victims. The Railway Man captures this phenomena perfectly. Both the British and the Japanese are shown as suffering severe PTSD following the war. You never get a sense that one group is “the good guys” or that the only means of closure is revenge. Even the torture scenes, which are beautifully shot in spite of their brutality, showcase the discomfort of both parties. The picture’s success in demonstrating this is due, in large part, to the performances of Firth, Sanada, Irvine and Ishida. Whenever you hear Irvine scream out in pain, you never get the feeling that he’s exaggerating or putting on a show. When you see Firth confront Sanada after years of regret and anguish, the former positively simmering with rage, the later a broken shell attempting to make amends, you believe every syllable of their dialogue. It would have been too easy for either man to fall prey to melodramatic cliches, for one character to come out as the clear moral superior, but both actors manage to display the ambiguity of their real life counterparts with breathtaking precision. If the Academy doesn’t choose to honor either Irvine or Sanada with at least a nomination for best supporting actor, I’ll be seriously disappointed.

Now, of course, as with all works of art, The Railway Man has its fair share of flaws. The first 20 minutes or so of the movie, which introduces us to Lomax following the war, are very slow, and resemble a romantic comedy for middle-aged people. I understand why the director chose to start off here–he wanted to illustrate that, even after all these years, Lomax, a likable everyman, is still haunted by his experiences,–but still, it took me a while to get into the movie. Likewise, the scenes with Nicole Kidman are just plain awful. I was kind of surprised by this, since most mainstream critics said she was the best thing in the movie, but the fact remains, her character is flat, she lacks any back story, and to be honest, I really found Kidman’s acting to be rather annoying. Finally, the film doesn’t hesitate to take some serious liberties with history. First of all, in real life, Eric Lomax was a proud Scottish patriot. In the movie, he’s portrayed as being English. Second, when Lomax and Nagase actually met with each other all those years after the war ended, it was to find some closure and reconciliation. In the movie, its set up as though Lomax went seeking revenge, but had a change of heart and chose to forgive his former captor. And thirdly, in real life, Lomax was married at the time he met Nicole Kidman’s character. The movie never bothers to discuss this first marriage, and instead sets Lomax up as a sad, lonely man who never was able to find love after the war.

Yes, The Railway Man is far from perfect, but these imperfections just make the movie’s brilliant moments shine all the brighter, and I would love it if more pop-corn chewing audiences would go and bask in this brilliance. I can’t believe I’m saying this but, I’d give the picture a 9 out of 10. It’s perfectly paced, flawlessly acted, and beautiful to look at. And on top of that, it tells a truly inspiring tale of suffering and reconciliation and, honestly, who wouldn’t want to see a thing like that?

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